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AGRICULTURE REPORT - Seed Collection Effort Aims to Safeguard 21 Food Crops

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

A new project will try to protect twenty-one of the world's most important food crops by securing their seeds. Organizers say the project will "rescue" seed collections in developing countries where many gene banks are in poor condition.

A boy carries cassava in the Democratic Republic of Congo
A boy carries cassava in the Democratic Republic of Congo

This is a joint project of two organizations, the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the United Nations Foundation. Cary Fowler, the director of the trust based in Rome, says it will be the largest such effort ever made.

The aim is to collect seeds or reproductive material from one hundred sixty-five thousand varieties of the crops. Organizers say the effort will secure more than ninety-five percent of the endangered crop diversity represented in gene banks in developing countries.

They say the fight against hunger cannot be won without securing crops that are in danger of being lost. Many of the crops are known as "orphan crops." Orphan crops do not get much attention from modern plant breeders but are especially important in poor countries. These include cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, taro and coconut.

Some orphan crops cannot be grown from seeds. Instead, cuttings, roots and cell cultures will be gathered from gene banks. And the project will finance research into lower-cost ways to protect these crops.

The project will also finance an information system for plant breeders to search gene banks worldwide. They will be able to look for plants with the right qualities to resist new diseases and the effects of climate change.

Still another goal is to improve communications between farmers and plant breeders. The organizers say they look forward to a time when breeders in Africa can find the same crop genetic information as those in Europe and North America.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has agreed to provide thirty million dollars for the project. Norway will provide seven and one-half million dollars.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust says at least four hundred fifty thousand seed samples will go into the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The trust and the government of Norway are building this in the side of a mountain on an island near the North Pole.

Seeds from around the world will be stored there in case the planet suffers a terrible disaster. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is expected to open in March of two thousand eight.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Steve Ember.

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